The Common Denominator of Stress

Individuals draw too many conclusions as to why we burn out. Yet, the actual conclusion is so simple that it is largely overlooked.

Here are some conclusions I’ve heard:

These may have grains of truth, but, in my experience, none of these conclusions are accurate. 

The answer: Fatigue

In the 10 + years I’ve been working to prevent and intervene burnout, the common denominator is 99% of the time fatigue.

Fatigue makes so much obvious – front-end – sense that we skip over it. Society has told us it is our personal and individual “fault” for getting burned out. Implying that there is a choice and fatigue is too complicated for simple blame. If we evaluated fatigue as the predictor of burnout, we would as a society and culture have to re-work the way we perceive success and work, and that is just too big of a task. Therefore, we blame the individual. Maybe, if we considered fatigue as the number one predictor of burnout, we would have to change the way we are as individuals, leaders, and systems.

When you look at the literature, fatigue is the common denominator of stress. Simply because we all face stressors – this we can never change. The only piece of increasing stress we CAN alter is how we respond to our situation. To respond in a resilient (bounce back quickly and effectively) manner, we must be creative, adaptive, and responsive – to achieve this, we have to have energy in the tank and rest.

Stay up to date on rest is the superior method to prepare for stressful experiences. Thus, preventing over-responding to stressors and frankly under-responding (although far less common). Rest also allows us to stay present and make good choices through the stressor, which permits a swifter ending. Rest also enables us to recover more efficiently and rapidly.

Remember, rest looks different for all of us. To truly rebuild energy through rest, we have to be doing the type of rest that works for us, individually.

  1. Know that you level of fatigue is the best predictor of your risk for burnout.
  2. Understand that even “good” or “positive” experiences can be fatiguing (i.e. weddings, new baby, buying a house.”
  3. Prepare for the truth that “resting” looks differently for everyone.  That means, fatigue also looks differently for everyone.  The response of rest has to be individualized.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the literature that suggests resting is the best way to re-engage the frontal lobe to have access to resiliency strategies.
  5. Belief yourself, not others, about how tired you are or are not.  When you are burned out, it will not have mattered whether someone else validated your fatigue.
  6. Be ready to create and implement both preventative and intervening solutions for fatigue if you hope to combat burnout.

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